Third gold in a row is special for softball team

The United States outscored its opposition, 51-1.
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- One last time, the U.S. softball team crowded around its coach and listened.
Two hours after winning their third straight gold medal and posing for pictures, the Americans pulled tightly together, stuck their hands into the middle of the circle and waited for coach Mike Candrea to ask them a question they've heard every day for more than a year.
"Who do you play for?" he asked.
"U-S-A!" they screamed.
Loud enough for the whole world to hear.
Best ever
On Monday, the U.S. team completed an almost flawless romp through the Olympics, winning gold with a 5-1 victory over Australia -- another dominant performance by the best softball team America has ever built.
"This team got it done, and we got it done in grand fashion," said pitcher Lisa Fernandez. "This is the best that's ever put on the red, white and blue."
They leave the Olympics with gold medals for the third straight time and a lasting legacy only slightly off perfection. The U.S. softball team not only was the real American Dream Team of these Olympics, it was the most dominant team of the Athens Games -- and maybe any other.
"This is the best one I've ever coached," Candrea said. "It's probably the best team I'll ever see. I think it will go down as a team people will talk about for a long time."
Displaying unmatched power on the mound, around the basepaths and in the batter's box, the United States beat Australia for a third straight time, capping a tournament it made its own.
Fernandez pitched a four-hitter and Crystl Bustos hit two homers -- one a monstrous shot off Aussie ace Tanya Harding -- to finish off their stay in Greece with style.
They ending was perfect except for one minor flaw: The Aussies scored a run in the sixth inning.
At 33, Fernandez, a three-time Olympian, only seems to get better. She went 4-0 in the tournament and batted .545, leaving little doubt that she's still the game's best all-around player.
The one run Australia scored was the only one against the Americans in the tournament, a tiny flaw that made the final score: U.S. 51, World 1.
The Americans outhit, outran and outclassed the game's top teams while virtually rewriting the Olympic softball record book for runs, home runs, ERA, extra-base hits, this, that and the other.
The odyssey
From their opening-game rout of Italy, to their gut-wrenching extra-inning win over Japan, to their third win over the Aussies, the Americans showed that -- at least in the softball world -- they are alone on the diamond.
"This is the greatest feeling in the world," outfielder Kelly Kretschman said. "We made it look easy, but every game was tough."
When he was chosen coach two years ago, Candrea issued a challenge to his players:
"One, to be special. And, two, to leave a legacy," he said. "I think this team has done that."

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